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31 July 2012

Spend Time Analyzing

The next time you have a chunk of time to devote to your genealogy research, spend it organizing and analyzing what you already have. Do not perform Google searches, do not use FamilySearch, or any other website, database, etc.

For that block of time for yourself to organize and analyze what you already have. The discoveries you make could surprise you.

30 July 2012

Is A Second Spouse a Relative By Marriage Before the Marriage?

After his first wife died, my 3rd great-grandfather married his deceased wife's sister. Another ancestor married widow of his brother-in-law.

Look for potential connections by marriage to any of your ancestor's spouses And those connections by marriage might have existed well before your ancestor married his spouse.

29 July 2012

Remember the Circumstances

Information for any record can be provided under less than ideal circumstances. Death certificates contain information than can easily be given at a time when the informant is tired, distracted, and even slightly confused about who their mother-in-law's mother was or where the deceased's father was born.

Keep this in mind if the informant gave "unknown" or a location that is really off.

28 July 2012

Let It Rest

If you are stuck, consider putting the problem aside for a few days (or a week) and letting it rest. Work on another family for a while. When you come back to the first problem or family, you may be able to see things you didn't before or will be more able to take a new approach.

27 July 2012

In the Context of the Family

Besides fitting events in your ancestor's life into national and regional historical events, consider fitting them into other events in their immediate family as well. Had a parent just died when a child decided to move? Did a parent's marriage to a new spouse take place a few years before the child left home? Always consider what was going on within your ancestor's family when certain things were happening in their life

26 July 2012

Do You Need It In Color?

Is it possible that a color scan or copy of a document or record might indicate clues that are not as easy to see on a plain black and white copy? Even sometimes a grayscale scan may show some nuances of shade and different colors or handwriting.

This image which we've discussed elsewhere makes a simple illustration.

25 July 2012

Look At The Time Frame

Always analyze a date in the context of other events taking place at about the same time. In comparing the death date of my great-grandfather with the date the will was brought to court for recording, I realized the dates were close--the date of death was 1 February and the will was brought for recording on 3 February. The time frame was even closer than I thought.

The great-grandfather died on a Saturday and on the following Monday the potential executor brought the will to be recorded. This was the first business day after the ancestor died--meaning that there wasn't really any delay at all--the executor didn't mess around.

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24 July 2012

Who Made The Document?

Are you aware of who created the document you are using in your research? Was it a census taker, records clerk, local pastor, etc.?

It makes a difference as who probably created the document impacts how much crededence is given to the information the document contains. Did the creator of the record obtain the information from their own first-hand knowledge or did someone else likely provide the information?

23 July 2012

Don't Cite What You've Not Used

If you have not seen a document or record yourself, do not list it as your source. "My cousin looked at the marriage record and said it says Blah" does not mean that you looked at it and it said "Blah." There's always a chance you cousin is incorrect. Look up the document yourself.

22 July 2012

Why Was The Record Created?

Do you know the original purpose of the record you are using for your research? It most likely was not genealogy. Land deeds were created to transfer real property, tax records were used to document the wealth of an individual so that taxes could be collected, court testimony was used to gather evidence to make a decision in a specific case, etc.

Why a document was created impacts the information it contains and how reliable that information may be perceived for genealogy research.

21 July 2012

July 2012 Webinars

26July 2012
3:00 PM CST
1820-1870 Census Case study—the Newmans
See how a family was traced in the 1820 through the 1870 census in the Midwest (KY, IN, IL). This case study will discuss search techniques, methodology, making certain you have the “right family,” correlating information, and more.
26 July 2012
1:00 PM CST
Crossing the Pond—Part II
This webinar will discuss reading, interpreting, and using passenger lists between 1820 and 1920. This session will not discuss search techniques of online databases, but will cover where to go once the manifest has been located, making certain you have the correct family and getting the most from what the manifest says.

Attendees may wish to purchase our US Passenger Lists at Ancestry.com ($8.50) webinar which discusses searching these lists or our Crossing the Pond ($8.50) webinar which focuses the methodology of tracing immigrant origins in the 18th and 19th centuries.
26 July 2012
8:30 PM CST
The American Revolution at Fold3.com
This webinar will discuss American Revolutionary War service records, benefit records, and other Revolutionary War materials on Fold3.com. Search approaches for these materials will also be discussed.
24 July 2012
1:00 PM CST
Working With Your Ancestry.com Tree: Part 2, Corrections
Have you merged records into your genealogical database and have “repeat” ancestors, ancestors married twice to the same person and other errors? We’ll see how to make corrections to these problems and others. We’ll also look at how to minimize making these mistakes again.

Don't Ignore What Doesn't Agree

If original material disagrees with other records or with your conclusions, do not simply ignore those original records because of the difference. Acknowledge that the other material exists and attempt to determine what might have caused the difference in statements of fact. If the cause cannot be determined and you still have reason to believe the other record to be incorrect, write up the records and reasons used.

20 July 2012

What Do You Have?

Before copying everything in a document or record, make certain you know exactly what type of record you are using. Is it a will, a census record, an affidavit contained in a pension file, a transcription of a court, record, etc.?

If you do not know what you are looking at, analyzing and interpretation are problematic.

19 July 2012

Difference Between a Marriage License and a Certificate

A marriage license allows a couple to get married and is usually presented to the officiant at the ceremony. The granting of a license is not proof that a marriage took place. The certificate certifies that the marriage took place.

18 July 2012

Short Marriage at the End?

Are you losing great-grandma at the very end of her life? Is it possible she married very late in life and her last name changed?

Took me a long time to find an ancestor of my wife who married her second husband in her late 60s. I assumed (incorrectly) that when her first husband died when she was in her early 60s that she never remarried. She didn't disappear, but instead died and was buried under her second husband's last name.

17 July 2012

Compiled Trees Should Not Be Your Only Source

Compiled trees (regardless of the compiler or the book, site, etc.) should not be your only source for a fact, relationship, date of an event, etc. These trees can lead you to other sources and give you research ideas, but do not simply "copy it down because you saw it online."

At the best, compiled trees provide references to original source materials.

At the worst, they are completely incorrect.

The truth is that most are somewhere in between. Use them as clues.

16 July 2012

Thirty Days

In estates being settled in the United States, typically an heir, the potential executor, or a creditor petitions the appropriate court to begin probate proceedings within thirty days of an individual's death. There can always be exceptions, but this is generally the tendency. State statute dictates the time frame for such petitions.

15 July 2012

Personal Property Tax Lists

If your ancestor did not own real property, determine if there were local personal property tax lists kept and if they can be accessed. These are typically county or city records and not all are extant. However, if they are, they may list people who do not appear on real property tax lists.

14 July 2012

Abbreviations Are Often Contemporary

An 1819 document used the abbreviation "M.T." as part of the location in a document. It took me a moment to realize that the reference was to "Missouri Territory." In 1850, such an abbreviation would not be used

Abbreviations were always used in the context of the time and place. Keep this in mind when interpreting them.

And remember that using abbreviations in your own work should be avoided precisely to avoid confusion.

13 July 2012

Baptismal Dates are Baptismal Dates

Always indicate that dates of baptism are dates of baptism.

In churches that practiced infant baptism, dates of baptism are usually "close" to the date of birth, but do not assume that every baptism can be used to approximate the date of birth. Some children may be baptized as toddlers or even young adults, depending upon the availability of a minister, the  strength of the parents' convictions, etc.

If parents are having one child baptized every two years over a fifteen year time span, then probably each one is being baptized as a small child.

12 July 2012

July 2012 Genealogy Webinars

I'll be presenting the following webinars in July:
  • Crossing the Pond-Part II
  • The American Revolution at Fold3.com
  • 1820-1870 Census Case study—the Newmans
Registration is only $8.50 for each one. Dates and registrations can be processed here http://www.casefileclues.com/webinars_neill.htm

Review Every Term

If there is a document or record that you do not understand, before you ask someone else to look at it--review every term or word and make certain that you understand the meaning of each word. When looking at meanings, it is important to keep in mind any legal meaning for the word and the time period in which the record was created.

And look up any word for which you do not know the meaning.

11 July 2012

Recording the Execution of the Acknowledgement

A recorded deed in a county record office may have several different dates attached to it:
  • the date of execution--when it was signed.
  • the date of acknowledgement--when it was acknowledged.
  • the date of recording--when it was recorded.
There is a difference to these dates and in some cases all three may be the same, but the execution happens first, then the acknowledgement, then the recording. In some instances the recorded copy might not mention all three dates.

10 July 2012

Every Age

Census records are not the only ones that may provide your ancestor's age. Affidavits in pension applications, statements made in court, or other records may also give the age of your ancestor. These statements may be particularly helpful for individuals who died in the United States before the 1850 census began asking for specific ages.

09 July 2012

Do You Trust Your Memory?

Are there facts or clues that you are still entrusting to your memory? Never assume that something is "impossible" to forget.  This temptation is greatest when researching a distance away from home. Don't wait to "write it down later to save time." It may take a little time during your research trip to write down "why" you copied something or "how" you reached a conclusion, but that time is well spent.

Waiting until you get home is only asking to forget.

08 July 2012

Named for a Famous Non-Relative?

Anyone with a cursory knowledge of US history would know that an ancestor named George Washington Smith, Benjamin Franklin Butler, or Abraham Lincoln Jones was likely named for the famous American. But what about someone named Lorenzo Dow Smith or Jasper Newton Smith? Do not assume you have a connection to the Dow or Newton families just because your ancestor had these names. Sometimes names are simply popular cultural references that have faded from memory.

07 July 2012

They Might Not Be What You Think

Just because Grandma insists her Grandpa was English doesn't mean that he was. There are several reasons Grandma could be incorrect and make certain to research the grandfather completely in the location where he settled to see if he left clues as to his origins--clues besides what Grandma remembers.

My Grandma insisted her Grandpa was Irish. Turns out most of his family had been in the Americas at least one hundred and fifty years before he was born--and virtually all were English.

06 July 2012

Are Names of Children Clues

My ancestral couple, James and Elizabeth (Chaney) Rampley had several children, including:
  • Thomas--father of James and Elizabeth
  • John--too common to be a real clue
  • James--grandfather of James and James himself
  • Riley--?
  • Martha--too common to be a clue
  • Elizabeth--too common to be a clue
Riley is a name that just seems to appear. Is it a clue to someone's maiden name, perhaps that of Elizabeth's mother? 

Clues contained in names are clues, not facts.

05 July 2012

Free Brick Wall Webinar

There were some technical issues with this offer as posted on Facebook yesterday, so we've (hopefully) fixed the error and re-posted the offer here:

Brick Walls from A to Z--This lecture is based upon my article "Brick Walls From A to Z" and is geared towards the somewhat experienced beginner to intermediate researcher. Just a list of ideas to get beyond your brick walls discussed alphabetically. Handout included. Add to cart here

To get this free until 9:00 AM 6 July 2012, use coupon code BRICKWALL

This post is: http://genealogytipoftheday.blogspot.com/2012/07/brick-walls-from-to-z-this-lecture-is.html

Write Down One Story

Have you preserved one of your own stories today or recently? Don't forget that someday you'll no longer be an "active" leaf on the family tree and the greatest irony would be if you didn't preserve and share a few of your own stories along the way.

04 July 2012

An Index Entry is a Start Not an End

If you find an ancestor in an index, remember that the index entry is meant to guide you to the actual record. Mistakes and omissions can easily be made. Failing to locate the original may create brick walls where none exist. And there's always the chance that there's a neat bit of information on the original not included in the index.

03 July 2012

July 4th Genealogy Webinar Sale

Don't forget our July 4th Genealogy Webinar Sale ends tomorrow. Discount code "july4" is working and will give you a 50% discount at checkout. Feel free to forward this message to others who may be interested...our prices are lower than most of the other online presentation vendors.

A complete listing of webinars is available at


Don't wait until Wednesday-take a look at our list of offerings today...and you don't need to have Revolutionary War ancestors to take advantage of our offers!

Neighbors 10 Years Before?

You've found your ancestor in the 1830 census, but cannot find him in earlier enumerations--or the name is common you cannot be certain it is him. Try looking for his 1830 neighbors in the 1820 census. Perhaps they had moved together to the location there were living at in 1830. Some of your ancestors 1830 neighbors might have been his 1820 neighbors as well.

02 July 2012

Did Great-Grandma Have a Tattoo?

It may seem like we're really scraping for today's tip, but there are actual several good genealogical concepts lurking under the surface, even if your great-grandma did not have a tattoo. Great-grandma's tattoo will go with her, much like any pieces of family history that she remembers and that have not been shared with others. The tattoo will fade during Grandma's lifetime, much like any family photographs that are not preserved. And, if great-grandma never reveals the fact that she has the tattoo, it may be one of those secrets that she takes to her grave.  And even if your great-grandma didn't have any tattoos, chances are there are a few secrets that she took with her.

01 July 2012

Adoptions Were Not Always Formal

Many "adoptions" were informal affairs where a relative or neighbor simply took in the child to raise as their own. There may have been no paperwork at all. In some times and locations there may be records of apprenticeships or guardianships, depending on the individual situation.